Why is local SEO important?

Local SEO is more important than ever. Google recently announced that  with more people using mobile devices than desktops for search, it was going to make its index mobile-first. Mobile users typically search for information that's relevant to where they are (or plan to be). In other words, local information.

Believe it or not, this is good news for local businesses. Instead of competing for search prominence nationally with all the businesses in your niche, you are in a much smaller pool of businesses available in a given area.

Content is also a huge part of connecting with your customers. Get the mix right and you will deliver relevant information that enhances your expertise and keeps you top of mind. How do you put the two together? To get your customers' attention you must optimize your website and content so your local customers can find you when they need your products or services. This guide will cover:

  • The building blocks of local SEO
  • Local SEO tactics to improve content marketing
  • Going local with content marketing
  • Going offline to build community
  • Auditing performance

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Overview of local SEO ranking factors

Before we dive in, let's take a quick look at what determines where your pages and content rank in search results.  Every year, Moz produces a list of local SEO ranking factors based on a survey of the biggest players in local SEO. It covers both general and specific ranking factors as well as those which can negatively affect your search ranking. Knowing these provides a good starting point for improving local search visibility.

According to Moz, the top ranking signals are:

  • On-page signals (20.3%)
  • Link signals (20%)
  • My Business signals (14.7%)
  • External local signals (13.6%)
  • Behavioral/mobile signals (9.5%)
  • Personalization (8.5%)
  • Review signals (8.4%)
  • Social signals (5%)

These numbers, which add up to 100, indicate the percentage of influence on overall ranking. It's noteworthy that content (a big part of on-page signals) is the most important factor. But there are several other areas you can improve to really nail local SEO. We'll look at some of those in more detail in the next section.

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1. Building Blocks of Local SEO

As the list of local SEO ranking factors shows, there's a lot you need to do BEFORE you start your content marketing strategy in earnest. If you don't, you'll appear much less credible when potential customers find you.

Before you start your content marketing strategy you need to look after the building blocks of local SEO.The reason for this is that if your customers find you and you have not looked after these factors you will appear much less credible. As we saw in the list above there are a number of things that you need to pay attention to. These include:

Google My Business/Facebook Places

Google My Business signals are hugely important in search ranking. That's why you must have an accurate, up-to-date listing. When people search for your business, they expect to find where your business is, what your opening hours are, how to reach you and more (see the section on NAP for more details). The more information you fill in, the better, and the more likely it is that people will click on your listing. You can also use similar information on your Facebook page and enable Facebook Places to allow people to check in to your location, adding further ranking signals. Check-ins are great for contests and promotions too.

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NAP

One of the most important aspects of local search optimization is NAP (name, address, and phone number). That signals that you're a legitimate business and those details also appear in citations (see below). Google scans the web to see how your business is mentioned and checks for consistency. If your NAP is consistent across multiple sites, it's much more likely that your site will show up in local search results.

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Citations

As mentioned earlier, citations are an important part of local search rankings. Citations are online references to your NAP and help Google to determine how authoritative and relevant your site is. Not only is it important to make sure the information is correct, but also to ensure that your business is listed in the right places. Quality citations from respected directories and sites are likely to release result in improved search rankings. Moz has a comprehensive list, featured in the resources section below.

Since websites cite information from online directories and other sites, faulty citations can spread just as quickly as correct ones, so it makes sense to find those and fix them. This can be time-consuming but is worth it to improve local SEO.

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Reviews

While review signals only account for 8.4% of local search visibility, they are hugely important to your customers. Year after year, research shows that customers trust the opinions of friends and peers much more than advertising and promotion. That's why external reviews from trusted sources and customer reviews are an important part of local SEO. Customers don't just want to know if YOU think you're the right fit for them; they want to know if others like them agree. That's why it's good business sense to encourage customers to review your products and services, both on your own site and on sites like Google, Facebook, Yelp and others.

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The local pack

Anytime you do a local search, you'll see a group of three listings just above the regular results. That's the local 3-pack and it's a great place to appear as it's the first thing most people will see. While chasing this spot isn't the be all and end all, optimizing the other areas mentioned will give you a good shot at appearing to the people you're most relevant to.

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Issues that hurt your ranking

Moz's list of local search ranking factors cited above also makes a note of some of the key mistakes businesses can make that have a NEGATIVE effect on local SERPs. These include:

  • having the wrong business category
  • having a listing at a full spit address
  • any mismatch of NAP
  • any mismatch of address
  • multiple Google My Business locations with the same phone number.

The key to success is accuracy and consistency.

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2. Local SEO Tactics to Improve Content Marketing

Once the building blocks are in place it's time to move on to improving your content marketing. There are a number of on-page and off-page SEO strategies you can use to boost the local search performance of your content. These include:

Keyword research

Carry out keyword research. There are two aspects of this. First, mining analytics data to see which keyword phrases are already bringing local searchers to you. Second, using tools like Google Keyword Planner to understand patterns of local search behavior and which keywords you should be including in your content and microdata to capture the interest of your local audience.

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Rich snippets and microdata

Rich snippets and microdata fill out information in Google's Answer Boxes and other parts of the Google search ecosystem. They are part of Google's effort to always serve the most relevant content to people. Get this right to improve your SERPs.

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Optimize for implicit search

Implicit search is search where what searchers need is implied rather than stated. For example, if you're using a mobile device with location services turned on and you search for "shoes", Google will assume you want a shoe shop near you. Businesses need to be ready for this kind of search.

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Get to know your local audience

If you're running a brick and mortar business, then you know who comes into your shop or office. Online, it's different, but you can still get to know your audience by mining social media insights and Google Search Console and Google Analytics data. This will allow you to create personas for your local customers so you can create the right content for them.

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Check out your competitors

While we'd never advocate stalking, there's no harm in paying close attention to your competitors. Who ranks above you in local search? What tactics are they using? How have they optimized their content and their sites? Gather this information, then use it to tweak your own strategy so you can beat them at their own game.

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Do a content audit

When you have this information, carry out a content audit to see if there are areas where you can make quick improvements to get your local audience's attention.

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Putting this to work for you is as simple as including keyword, niche and locale in your content – without stuffing. For example, one Florida building contractor runs a home improvement blog. They include the desired local keyword in the title of each post, making it clear which area they are targeting.

Make content mobile friendly

It goes without saying, but we're saying it anyway, that locally optimized content must also be mobile-friendly.  With more searches happening on mobile devices than on desktops, there's a strong correspondence between mobile and local search. If you haven't yet optimized your site and your content, now's the time to do it!

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3. Going Local With Content Marketing Tactics

Once your existing content is optimized, here's how you can get more from content marketing with a local twist.

Give blogging a local twist

Broaden your blogging mix to include best of lists, seasonal guides and guides, all targeted to the local area. These provide useful resources for those looking for local information and tend to score well for relevance in search results.

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Expand your content mix

Use other content types that are proven to work well, creating videos, images, ebooks and white papers destined for the local audience. Just as McDonald's serves different menu options in different parts of the world, you can do the same, refining your core offering to take account of local issues.

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Make yourself available

Become a local resource. Use services like HARO to get cited in local publications. Take part in online groups relating to the local area – for example, you'll find Facebook groups for states, cities, towns and even neighborhoods. These are great places to participate and selectively share locally appropriate content.

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Foster media connections locally

Build links with the local media. Let them know you are available to comment on local issues, and contribute guest content to local publications, both online and offline. All of this will build your profile as a locally connected business.

Cross-promote with local businesses

Cross-promote by building links with other local businesses in complementary areas. This gives you the power of two audiences and can result in introducing your content and your business to new customers.

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Market your business offline

Go offline. Some of the content you create for online use can also be shared offline. For example, you can prepare a presentation for offline use and also publish it online.  Attending  a local networking events or meetups can put on on the radar of local customers and also send people back to your website to see what you have to offer.

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4. Audit Performance

Local SEO isn't a "set it and forget it" undertaking. As search ranking algorithms, technology and your audience evolve, you'll have to keep monitoring your performance to ensure that your content remains relevant and you achieve the desired search ranking. This means paying attention to the building blocks outlined in section 1 as well as tweaking your content mix when necessary. Here are some resources to help with this.

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5. Case Studies and Examples

Want to put these tips into practice? Here's how some people have succeeded with content marketing for local SEO.

As you can see, the combination of local search optimization and content marketing can make a huge difference to local search ranking. Come back to this guide anytime you need to check that your local SEO strategy is on point.